A museum in north China shows visitors life as it was decades ago
By Li Qing  ·  2023-05-15  ·   Source: NO.20 MAY 18, 2023
A bicycle rider's license issued in Hohhot, capital of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, in the 1980s. Aside from regulatory purposes, bike plates and rider's licenses also made it easier to identify lost bikes

Located over 700 km west of Beijing, a private museum is transporting visitors more than 50 years back in time.

The 800-square-meter building in Ordos, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, showcases nearly 1,000 exhibits, including photos, letters, tools and everyday items.

"These old objects witnessed social changes and are mementos of the time," Hao Yingjie, the museum's curator, said. He further expressed his hopes that the exhibits, in addition to informing people about the past, can inspire younger generations to work hard and carve out a better future.

A cloth coupon used in Inner Mongolia in the 1950s

Hao holds a special interest in the possessions of ordinary families in the 1970s since they can recreate an accurate picture of people's life in that specific era.

Born and raised in a village in Ordos, Hao left school at 16. He first established a company collecting cultural relics and then went on to create a private museum in 2008, at the age of 27. "Through the exhibition, visitors can gain insight into China's social progress over time and appreciate the long way the country has come," he said.

A sewing machine produced by a factory in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province in northwest China. In the late 1970s and 1980s, a sewing machine was one of the necessities for newly married couples. Sewing machines of the era relied on pedal power

The museum is dedicated to the experience of "educated youths," young Chinese who had received elementary to high school education and then volunteered to work in remote and underdeveloped regions in the late 1960s. Most had returned to their hometowns by the late 1970s when the policy ended. 

Some 1,000 educated youths from Nanjing, Jiangsu Province in east China, once lived in the Ordos grasslands. For them, the museum is a diary of their formative years.

Test taker identification cards for the gaokao, the national college entrance examination, in Inner Mongolia in 1977. That year, China resumed the exam that had been suspended for 10 years due to the Cultural Revolution. The resumption of the gaokao was considered a prelude to the launch of the country's reform and opening-up policy in 1978

"It reminded me of my youth in Ordos when local herders taught me to herd sheep and farm," 73-year-old Yang Yumin told Xinhua News Agency. He spent three years in Ordos working in railway construction. "The place nurtured us and tempered our will, which has stuck with us through hardships for the rest of our lives," he said.

The number of items Hao and his company have collected exceeds 3 million. They have been organized into 70 categories, including the modern history of China, farming culture and the Yellow River. 

An enameled cup produced to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. Enamel used to be a common material for household items. Washbasins, cups, bowls and even lampshades were all made from enamel. Today, these items mostly serve as souvenirs—a cultural symbol of decades past

The company currently has the capacity to operate at least 30 exhibitions at the same time. Starting from this one focusing on educated youths in the Ordos grasslands, Hao plans to expand the "museum community" to feature 32 exhibitions with various themes, such as furniture, sports, transportation and clothing. 

(Photos courtesy of Hao Yingjie)

(Printed Edition Title: Time Travel) 

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson 

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